Paradise in Peril: Hawaii’s Unprecedented Wildfire Emergency”

Strong winds helped spread wildfires in Hawaii, which destroyed several buildings in places like the historic town of Lahaina.

Several communities had to evacuate and schools were closed on Wednesday, and firefighters pulled a dozen people from the ocean who were trying to escape the smoke and flames.

Hawaii
(Getty Images)

 

The County of Maui said in a statement that the U.S. Coast Guard helped people who went into the water to get away from the fire and smoke.

Twelve people were saved from the water near Lahaina, according to a tweet from the Coast Guard.

 

The county tweeted that several roads in Lahaina were closed, with the warning “DO NOT go to Lahaina town.”

 

Mahina Martin, a spokeswoman for the County of Maui, said in a phone interview early Wednesday that there was fire all over Lahaina, including on Front Street, which is a famous tourist spot.

People trying to leave have caused a lot of traffic, so officials asked people who weren’t in an evacuation zone to stay put so they wouldn’t add to the traffic.

Hawaii
(Getty Images)

 

The National Weather Service said that Hurricane Dora, which was passing to the south of the island chain at a safe distance of 500 miles (805 kilometres), was partly to blame for the strong winds that knocked out power as night fell, shook homes, and stopped firefighting planes.

The weather service said that strong winds and low humidity would make it hard to put out fires until Wednesday afternoon.

 

Officials knew of no deaths and only one injury, a fireman who got smoke inhalation and was in stable condition at a hospital, Martin said.

There is no way to know how many people had to leave their homes because of the fires or how many buildings were damaged, but Martin said there are four shelters open, with the biggest one holding more than 1,000 people.

 

Martin said, “This has never happened before,” and he pointed out that many districts were impacted. She said that an emergency at night is scary and hard to figure out how bad it is because of the darkness.

 

“Right now, we need help from everyone, and we can’t wait for dawn,” she said.

 

According to the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, the Federal Emergency Management Agency accepted a disaster declaration to help with a fire that threatened about 200 homes in and around Kohala Ranch, a rural area with more than 500 people on the Big Island.

When the request was made, the fire had burned more than 600 acres (243 hectares) and could not be stopped.

Officials said there were two unchecked fires on the Big Island and Maui, and a red flag warning was still in place for much of Hawaii.

On Maui, firefighters were fighting multiple fires that were mostly in two places: West Maui, which is a famous tourist spot, and an inland mountainous area.

In west Maui, there was no 911 service, so people were told to call the cops instead.

Because of the wind gusts, helicopters couldn’t drop water on the fires from the sky or get a better idea of how big the fires were.

Also, Martin said, downed trees and power lines made it hard for firemen to get to the inland fires.

According to poweroutage.us, about 14,500 people in Maui did not have power early on Wednesday.

Martin said, “It’s definitely one of the hardest days for our island, since there are multiple fires and multiple evacuations in different areas.”

Winds of 80 mph (129 kph) were measured in rural Maui. She also said that a fire that was thought to be under control earlier Tuesday started to spread again after a few hours because of the strong winds.

“The fire could be a mile or more away from your home, but it could be there in a minute or two,” said Fire Assistant Chief Jeff Giesea.

 

Maui Mayor Richard Bissen said that a fire that burned about 1.7 square miles (4.5 square kilometres) and destroyed at least two homes in the Kula area of Maui. He said that about 80 people had to leave 40 homes.

“We’re trying to protect homes in the community,” said Big Island Mayor Mitch Roth about the decision to evacuate about 400 homes in four communities in the northern part of the island. He said that as of Tuesday, the roof of one house had caught fire.

Hawaii’s fires are different from many of those in the West.

Most of the time, they start in big grasslands on the dry sides of islands and are much smaller than fires on the mainland.

Before people came, ires were rare on Hawaii and other tropical islands, and the natural ecosystems developed without them.

This means that when fires start, they can do a lot of damage to the environment.

For example, fires get rid of plants. When a fire is followed by heavy rain, the rain can wash loose dirt into the ocean, where it can bury coral reefs.

In 2021, a big fire on the Big Island destroyed homes and caused tens of thousands of people to leave.

 

Adam Weintraub, who is in charge of information for the Hawaii Emergency Management Agency, said that there were also power outages, downed power lines, and traffic problems on the island of Oahu, where Honolulu is.

 

 

 

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